Eating with fingers: Ever permitted?

I was watching an interview with the cast of Downton Abbey and they were talking about their manners expert and how he guided them through various social situations and table-manner uncertainties. They mentioned one episode where asparagus was served and they weren’t sure whether to pick it up with their fingers or use a fork. The expert wasn’t available, so they cut it up and pretended it was green beans, just to be safe. Is it ever correct to pick up asparagus with your fingers?

Interestingly, asparagus can be considered a finger food if it is perfectly plain. If it has sauce or is buttered, you use a fork. Most people use a fork, since asparagus is usually served on a plate with other foods that are eaten with a fork and it seems odd to use fingers for just one thing on the plate, but you would not be wrong to pick it up as long as it is not covered in hollandaise or other sauce.

I’ve just joined a gym and will be working with a personal trainer. Am I supposed to tip him?

We’ve surveyed several trainers who report that they do not, customarily receive tips except for a few who said they have received holiday tips or gifts. If a tip, it is generally the amount of one session with the trainer, but they never expect to receive them since they are paid for their services, whether operating independently or as part of a contract arrangement with a gym. Of course, if at the end of your sessions you feel particularly grateful to your trainer, you may give him or her a tip as thanks, but it is not expected.

I was at a party and was seated on a couch. The hostess brought someone over to meet me. I didn’t know if I should stand up to be introduced and shake hands. I know it is expected of men, but didn’t know if, as a woman, I should stand. Is there a guideline?

It used to be that women remained seated unless being introduced to an older woman or a “dignitary” of some sort. Today, however, both men and women rise when being introduced to someone. You then remain standing, in order to converse comfortably, so you aren’t craning your neck or so that the other person doesn’t have to bend over to talk to you in a normal tone of voice.

What is the correct way to hold a wine glass, by the stem, or by the bowl?

When white wine, which presumably is chilled, is served in a stemmed glass, the glass is held by the stem so the warmth of your hands doesn’t warm the wine. When it is red wine, you may hold the glass by the bowl, since red wine is ordinarily served at room temperature and the warmth of your hands won’t alter the temperature of the wine.

Questions for Catherine? Send them to